We drive the ‘Cayenne Junior’ to find out if it’s more than just an Audi Q5 in sporty drag.
For the new Porsche Macan, there shouldn’t be the kind of purist uproar that accompanied the release of the German car maker’s first SUV.
Most Porsche followers have accepted the Cayenne is the vehicle the company had to build – one that since 2002 has become a sales success to ensure the likes of the 911 and Boxster sports cars can be produced without fear of financial collapse.
Porsche sold 84,000 Cayennes in 2013 to outsell its 911, Cayman and Boxster sports cars combined (about 55,000), so it’s not difficult to see the company’s logic in creating the Macan. Production is capped at 50,000 a year initially, though the expectation is that the smaller SUV will eventually become the brand’s best-seller.
Pricing should help – the Porsche Macan will start from $84,900 when it reaches Australia mid-year. (And a Porsche will be even more attainable if the brand goes ahead with four-cylinder turbo engines that are under consideration.)
(For more details on pricing and features, click to read our Porsche Macan Quick Guide.)
The Porsche Macan, like its bigger brother, borrows its foundations from elsewhere in the Volkswagen Group. Where the Cayenne was related to the Volkswagen Touareg and Audi Q7, the Macan’s seeds are sown from the Audi Q5.
Porsche is still wary about what it applies its badges to, however, and you only have to take a look at the Macan inside and out to appreciate the SUV from Zuffenhausen shares only about 30 per cent commonality with its cousin from Audi HQ in Ingolstadt. And there’s nothing visibly shared.
It drives as much like a Q5 as a Cayenne does its own twin, the VW Touareg. That is, not very.
Porsche says it focused on making the Macan a far sportier drive than the Q5 – one that steers, brakes, accelerates and stops in a superior way.
It does… though to discover this, it took a racetrack session rather than the flat and dull drive route chosen for the launch in Leipzig, Germany, where the Macan is built alongside the Cayenne and Panamera sedan.
A responsive throttle pedal, perfectly calibrated and progressive brakes, well weighted and superbly accurate steering… these are all hallmarks of a typical Porsche sports car and all can be found in the Macan.
There’s more body roll and body mass to take through corners than you’d experience in a Porsche sports car, but SUVs are just not meant to be this dynamically capable and entertaining.
Even the sensation from the driver’s seat is of being lower to the ground than you’d expect from your average SUV. The sports-car-like driving position is helped by the height of the dashboard and door shoulders, and the fact the Macan’s hip point is 70mm lower than the Cayenne’s.
The steering wheel is also from Porsche’s new 918 Spyder hybrid supercar, bringing a perfect rim thickness, multifunction controls and – most importantly – standard paddleshift levers instead of the dumb thumb shift buttons the company had persisted with in recent years.
Road surfaces in the Leipzig area aren’t all as flat as the surrounding landscape, and whether the Porsche Macan is sitting on a suspension of standard steel springs or optional air springs, there’s a comfortable passage despite the firm set-up and big wheels (19-inch standard on S, 20s on Turbo).
Comfort mode of the active suspension (PASM) that’s standard on the S petrol and diesel models and standard in combination with air suspension on the Turbo provides excellent cushioning without allowing the body to become floaty, though neither the Sport nor Sports Plus modes will rattle your teeth.
We tested both twin-turbo V6 petrols on the road loop, both of which cleverly feed air from the front of the vehicle and into ducting beneath the bonnet before feeding intercoolers on either side of the engine.
The smaller, 250kW/460Nm 3.0-litre in the $87,200 S that has an shorter-stroke piston arrangement than the $122,900 Turbo’s 294kW/550Nm 3.6L is a smooth unit that mates nicely with the decisive-shifting seven-speed PDK auto transmission.
It would be too harsh to call its performance underwhelming, though the Macan S builds speed purposefully rather than excitingly – and the engine note is no more than a rising hum as acceleration increases. Still, a 0-100km/h time of 5.4 seconds is far from slouch territory.
Progress becomes noticeably more urgent in the Porsche Macan Turbo, however, and the induction/engine/exhaust soundtrack is more engaging without being special enough to send tingles down your back like some high-performance engines can.
The Porsche Macan cruises quietly. And even if you have an optional panoramic roof fitted, there’s a clever wind deflector that opens up when the roof retracts to prevent cabin buffeting.
On the autobahn, the Turbo’s performance advantage over the S is also clear at higher speeds – pulling stronger from 200km/h to 250km/h, though both impress with stability. With German drivers adept at clearing the fast lane long before you get there, the only thing to trouble matters is wind noise around the A-pillars.
These are not the speeds at which to start searching out buttons or admiring the cabin quality that is also elevated above the Q5 (which is no easy feat).
The Macan adopts the bridge console from other Porsches, so no points for originality here. There’s also the same vast array of buttons that might intimidate some, though it doesn’t take long to become familiar with where your finger needs to go to change functions such as the air-con temp/fan, choose a vehicle set-up, heat the seats, or even select the standard Off-road mode or hill descent control.
We got to press both for an off-road course that allowed us to descend an 80 per cent (read bloody steep) gradient, traverse muddy sections, drive along 25-degree ramps and ride over a nasty ‘cross axle’ section of offset rocks that test articulation.
This was our only go in the diesel version of the Macan, but even this short sampling was enough to sense this tractable, quiet and torquey V6 (with the most pulling power at 580Nm) may well be the pick over the petrol S.
Of course it’s also the most fuel efficient Macan, with official consumption rated as little as 6.1 litres per 100km compared with best figures of 8.7L/100km (S) and 8.9L/100km (Turbo).
Those figures could be lower if kerb weights that can touch two tonnes with a driver on board, so with more frugal rivals in the luxury SUV segment, there’s a need to be mindful this is a performance-focused offering.
It still offers practicality that is comparable to competitors – and way beyond that of a 911. However, that means the back seat will still be tight for some adults – and make the 165mm-longer Cayenne a consideration for those who want a generously spacious Porsche SUV and can stretch to the $100,200 starting point or beyond.
The 500-litre boot is also smaller than the X3's or Q5's, though it will take two large suitcases, and the rear seatback split fold to triple cargo space. There’s a neat touch for the electric tailgate, too, which can be opened by a button hidden on the rear wiper blade.
Our first experience with the Macan, though, suggests it will be capable of satisfying the vast numbers of buyers who will be new to the brand, and even the sports car traditionalists looking for classic Porsche traits in a more affordable, practical offering.